Playoff Preview – ALCS Tampa Bay Rays vs. Boston Red Sox - Cybsball20

Friday, 10/9 @ Tampa Bay
Bos - Matsuzaka TB - Shields

Saturday, 10/11 @ Tampa Bay
Bos - Beckett TB - Kazmir

Monday, 10/13 @ Boston
TB – Garza Bos - Lester

Tuesday, 10/14 @ Boston
TB – Sonnnanstine Bos - Wakefield

Thursday, 10/16 @ Boston
TB – Shields Bos – Matsuzaka

Saturday, 10/18 @ Tampa Bay
Bos – Beckett TB - Kazmir

Sunday, 10/18 @ Tampa Bay
Bos – Lester TB - Garza

Results This Season
At Tampa Bay
4/25 Rays 5 Red Sox 4
WP Dohmann LP Timlin

4/26 Rays 2 Red Sox 1
WP Dohmann LP Buchholz

4/27 Rays 3 Red Sox 0
WP Shields LP Beckett

At Boston
5/2 Red Sox 7 Rays 3
WP Buchholz LP Jackson

5/3 Red Sox 12 Rays 4
WP Beckett LP Shields

5/4 Red Sox 7 Rays 3
WP Lester LP Kazmir

6/3 Red Sox 7 Rays 4
WP Masterson LP Garza

6/4 Red Sox 5 Rays 1
WP Beckett LP Jackson

6/5 Red Sox 7 Rays 1
WP Lester LP Shields

At Tampa Bay
6/30 Rays 5 Red Sox 4
WP Shields LP Masterson

7/1 Rays 3 Red Sox 1
WP Garza LP Wakefield

7/2 Rays 7 Red Sox 6
WP Glover LP Hansen

At Boston
9/8 Red Sox 3 Rays 0
WP Lester LP Jackson

9/9 Rays 5 Red Sox 4
WP Wheeler LP Papplebon

8/10 Rays 4 Red Sox 2
WP Miller LP Timlin

At Tampa Bay
9/15 Red Sox 3 Rays 0
WP Matsuzaka LP Kazmir

9/16 Rays 2 Red Sox 1
WP Wheeler LP Masterson

9/17 Rays 10 Red Sox 3
WP Balfour LP Wakefield

About the Red Sox

The Red Sox reach the ALCS as the only remaining Wild Card winner and will be facing a division foe that they have a tense history with. The Red Sox and Rays have a history going back as far as eight years ago, when Gerald Williams charged the mound against Pedro Martinez, then again when Coco Crisp charged James Shields, just dodging a hard right hook. Both sides know that they need to keep their emotions under control so as not to risk any damage to the team’s chances, but rest assured that this will be an intense series. The Sox have a clear advantage in pos season experience here, with 393 games to the Rays 116 (most of those last week) so they will need to lean on that experience to get them through this series. The Sox battled injuries to dispose of the American League best Angels in just four close games.

Offensively, the Sox had to adjust as some of their most consistent and experienced hitters struggled at the plate against Angel pitching. Third basement Mike Lowell was shut out through the series, going 0-8 and will not be joining the team for the NLCS. In addition to Lowell’s struggles, Jason Varitek continued his year long slump, hitting .214 in the division series and perhaps the most consistent hitter this year, Dustin Pedroia, managed just one hit in 17 at bats. Jason Bay, acquired in a trade for Manny Ramirez, stepped up in a tight spot for the Sox with 7 hits, 2 doubles, and 2 huge home runs to pick up the offense. Jacob Ellsbury was setting the tone the whole series with three doubles and three stolen bases and playing stellar defense. Aside from Bay and Ellsbury, only Lowrie (.364) and Kotsay (.300) hit .300 or better and both in a part time roll. Manager Terry Francona has already announced that Kevin Youkillis (.222, 1 2b) will slide over to third and Kotsay will be the full time starter at first.

Here is a look at the probably lineup for the Red Sox.

Ellsbury (.333, 3 3b, 3 SB)
Pedroia (.059, 2b, 2 BB)
Ortiz (.235, 2b, 3 BB)
Youkillis (.222, 2b, 2 BB)
Drew (.286, 2b, HR)
Bay (.412, 2 HR, 2 2b)
Kotsay (.300, R)
Lowrie (.364, 2 R, .462 OBP)
Varitek (.214, 2 R)

The Red Sox pitching staff will be led, once again, by the steady John Lester. Against the Angels, Lester was the only Red Sox starter to make it past 5 innings, throwing 14 innings in two starts. In those 14 innings, Lester only allowed one unearned run and struck out 11 against only three walks. The remaining Sox starters were not as consistent. Josh Beckett allowed four runs in only five innings, walking four and giving up two home runs and Daisuke Matsuzaka wasn’t much better allowing three runs in five innings, walking three Angles and surrendering eight hits. Both Matsuzaka and Beckett will need to be much sharper and keep the speedy Rays off the base paths if they expect to advance to the World Series. The normally unhittable Red Sox bullpen showed some signs of wear in the ALDS. Pappelbon hurled five scoreless innings, but blew a save in game two when he allowed an inherited runner to score the tying run after being called on for a two inning save. Manny DelCarmen was the only other Red Sox reliever to escape the series unscathed as Okijima surrendered 2 runs, Masterson 2 runs, and Lopez picked up the only loss allowing three hits and a run.

About the Rays
The Rays offense continued the formula that won them 97 games in the regular season to best the AL Central Champion White Sox in four games. The young pitchers were steady and the offense used an aggressive combination of speed and power to outscore the Southsiders. Joe Maddon’s team came out with the poise and confidence you would expect from a veteran team and took advantage of the raucous crowds at Tropicana field. The team with the second lowest payroll in the major leagues is hoping to prove that the money doesn’t matter as they take on a team spending nearly $100,000,000 more.

Shoe in Rookie of the Year candidate Evan Longoria took the reigns in game one of the NLDS and set the tone that this was a team to be reckoned with. Longoria’s welcome party to the postseason included two home runs and three RBI as he finished the series with a .267 average and 1.020 OPS. Carlos Pena battled a freakish eye injury to finish five for ten with two RBI. Catcher, Dioner Navarro swung a hot bat with six hits in fifteen at bats, including three doubles and second basemen Aki Iwamura hit for the cycle in the short series with a home run, triple, double and four singles to a .389 series average. Former #1 pick, BJ Upton was just missing the ball in game one and two but locked it in for the remaining games to finish the series with three home runs. The Rays also stole seven bases in the four game series and hopes to use that speed to take advantage of the Red Sox pitchers’ slow deliveries.

Probably Rays lineup

Iwamura (.389, HR, 3b, 3b)
Upton (.278, 3 HR, 5R)
Pena (.500, 2 SB, 2 RBI)
Longoria (.267, 2 HR, SB)
Crawford (.214, 3 SB, 2 RBI)
Floyd (.200, RBI)
Navarro (.400, 3 2b, 3 RBI)
Baldelli (.125, 2 BB)
Bartlett (.286, 2b, 3 R)

Willy Aybar (.273, 2b) and Gabe Gross (.167) will also see some time and Aybar may see some starts at first with Pena moving to DH.

As good as Longoria and Upton were in the ALDS, the real star of the show was the Rays bullpen. The pen was counted on for 12 innings in this three game series and didn’t disappoint, allowing only one run on a solo home run against closer Dan Wheeler. The crew of JP Howell (4.1 IP, 6k), veteran Chad Bradford (3 IP, 4k), and my new favorite Grant Balfour (3.1 IP, 3k) appeared in some big spots and only allowed 6 hits. The Rays young starters may not of stood out, but they certainly did their part to keep the team in the games, which is what you want in a playoff atmosphere. Maddon would be ecstatic if his starters can get him to through six in striking distance of the Red Sox.

Key Players and Pitchers

Boston Red Sox
Key Pitcher – Daisuke Matsuzaka – Daisuke is going to have a lot on his plate this series. He has to keep the speedy Rays off the bases and eliminate as many free passes as possible. Matsuzaka is slow to the plate and there is nothing he can do, at this point in the season, to change that. If he tries to speed up his delivery, his pitches won’t be as effective and he will likely walk more hitters. Look for the Rays runners to not stop at second in their base stealing, especially against Matsuzaka.

Key Player – Mark Kotsay – With Mike Lowell unable to play in the NLCS, manager Terry Francona will move Youkillis over to third and insert Kotsay into the lineup to play first. Kotsay will bat towards the bottom of the lineup but with the RBI potential of Ellsbury and Pedroia the Sox will need to turn the lineup over as often as possible.

Tampa Bay Rays
Key Pitcher – JP Howell – The former Longhorn has been much more than just a situational left hander for the Rays. Howell normally goes at least a full inning each time out and will be counted on heavily against a Red Sox lineup scattered with lefties. Howell hasn’t disappointed all year and may even see some closing chances against the middle of that potent Sox lineup.

Key Player – Carl Crawford – Everyone knows that Crawford can run, but he really needs to step up and protect Evan Longoria. After Longoria’s big game one performance the White Sox pitchers didn’t show him many pitches to hit and unfortunately for the Rays, he was chasing them. The Sox has said they have no problems pitching around Longoria so that will put added pressure on the Crawford just weeks after rehabbing a hand injury.

Game Preview and Predictions
Game One – Matsuzaka vs. Shields in Tampa Bay 7:37 PM
Shields has a 5.85 career ERA against the Boston Red Sox but does have some very quality games mixed in. The crowd will be rocking in St. Pete and the Rays will put a lot of pressure on the Sox. But, I think the Sox will benefit from their experience and pull this game out in a relatively high scoring game. Red Sox win 8-5.

Game Two – Beckett vs. Kazmir in Tampa Bay 7:07 PM
Kazmir still hasn’t put together a great game in some time, but neither has Beckett. This one shapes up to be another exciting game that gets to the bullpens early. The Tampa bullpen comes up big with Balfour and Howell and the Rays win 7-5.

Game Three – Garza vs. Lester in Boston 3:37 PM
Lester has been as close to dominant in the playoffs as one can get while Garza looked awfully solid until the wheels came off late. Both pitchers will mimic their division series performances and the Red Sox win 6-1.

Game Four – Sonnanstine vs. Wakefield in Boston 7:07 PM
The scrappy young Rays take advantage of Wakefield’s eratic knuckler and score early and often to run away with this game early. Sonnanstine is solid, but not spectacular as the Rays win 8-3.

Game Five – Matsuzaka vs. Shields in Boston 7:07 PM
The Red Sox don’t want to go back to Tampa in a hole and their experience comes up big again. They Sox jump out to a lead and hold off a late charge by the Rays to win 6-3.

Game Six – Beckett vs. Kazmir in Tampa Bay 3:37 PM
The post season Josh Beckett we have come to know shows up again and gives the Sox a solid six innings just in time to carry the Sox to the series. The Rays come are never really in this one and the Red Sox win 5-1.